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To many of you who are fairly deep into music, Island Records is a label that brought you music by Bob Marley & The Wailers, U2 and Traffic. But before that, Island was formed by Chris Blackwell with a specific intent. This is celebrated on a new series of vinyl compilations which aim to tell the label’s story and put it in some context.
And perspective is exactly what Mr. Blackwell offers us in the liner notes to The Vinyl Series Volume One:
”When I moved Island Records’ base from Kingston to London in 1962, all I wanted to do at first was just release the really great music that was coming out of Jamaica,” writes Blackwell in the collection’s liner notes. “But then I got caught up in all the music that I was hearing in London, much of it from America. Clearly, the culture was moving in a new direction and I wanted Island Records to mirror that shift and be in this new world.”
There have been plenty of other collections of Island Records catalog, but the appeal of this one is in its focus and conciseness
In this tight and punchy 14 song set you get seminal tracks from Desmond Dekker (“Israelites”) to Millie Small’s groundbreaking ska-pop hit “My Boy Lollipop.” Within the span of two LP sides the listener travels remarkably from early reggae sides by Toots & The Maytals to mod soul rockers by The Spencer Davis Group (featuring a young Steve Winwood on organ and vocals).
Given that Island was ultimately based in the UK, the label brought out influential American titles overseas, thus you also get to hear classics like like “Mockingbird” by Charlie and Inez Foxx and “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl.
Somehow, it all works well together. As I said, context is everything, folks.
The pressing of The Vinyl Series Volume Oneis thick (probably 180-gram), dark, quiet and well centered. Do remember that these are early 1960s tracks, many of which sound like original singles mixes which is a great thing — just don’t go into this expecting some high end audiophile experience! This album is all about the songs and the changing face of music at that fertile point in time. That said, this album does sound quite good and consistent from track to track.
Detailed liner notes by noted author and longtime Island Records chronicler Chis Salewicz are rounded out by Blackwell’s own perspectives.
Future volumes of The Vinyl Series will explore Island’s role in the folk, hard rock, singer-songwriter, glam, and progressive movements. And, of course, the music of Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff that shaped the sound of reggae will be touched on.
The Vinyl Series a cool and handy album series. If you have been looking to learn more about the music of the 60s and how certain pieces of that puzzle came together, The Vinyl Series Volume One may be just the ticket you are seeking.